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Science Fiction Review – The Long Sunset

The Long Sunset by Jack McDevitt
Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)

This book is the 8th in “The Academy” series, but I see no reason a new reader couldn’t pick this up and still enjoy it. Read in order, there’s a clear timeline, but each book is a stand-alone science-fiction adventure.

Priscilla “Hutch” Hutchins is a top-notch interstellar pilot, specializing in exploratory missions and the survivor of quite a few hair-raising adventures. But the political climate of the world right now is that humans can’t afford just to go exploring, there’s no money and besides, what if they meet something scary? Space is now the province of a couple private companies who do tours and one that’s working on terraforming a new planet for humans.

But then a signal from many light-years away is received, and it’s so compelling that a researcher decides they have to go look. He puts together a team with Hutch as the pilot, and they manage to get underway even as the stop order is hitting their comms.

I found this first part of the book slow going. The conversations about how the team might run into aliens determined to follow them back and wipe out humanity are repeated over and over. A thing I like about McDevitt is the idea that advanced civilizations are going to realize there’s no point in being automatically hostile. I don’t know that I believe it (just like some characters in this book!) but I want to. But the same question just gets hammered on too many times.

As in most of the Academy novels, there’s no straight line between the goal of the mission and  how they get there – much sightseeing is involved. McDevitt is great at throwing in fictitious books and plays his characters have experienced, so we get a lot of that too. Eventually,  Hutch and some of the crew are going to get a crash course communicating with a different set of aliens than they were looking for.  McDevitt isn’t one to come up with fantastically strange life-forms – his aliens are pretty much like us in terms of what they want out of life. In this case they apparently also invent instantly recognizable items, like telephones. It’s actually pretty funny that this crew from more than 200 years in our future knows what a 1970s telephone looks like.

There’s a huge disaster looming over the alien civilization, which the humans know about and the aliens don’t. The solution is overwhelming. Should they tell? Can they even figure out a solution? Can they find help? How to persuade Earth, given that space travel is now seen as unnecessary? There was a great big whopping idea early on, and I was disappointed when McDevitt only gave it one line of recognition later.

The dialogue is occasionally pretty clunky, and I don’t find much difference between the five members of the crew, but well-rounded characters has never been McDevitt’s strongest thing. It’s told exclusively from Hutch’s POV except for a few diary entries from the others. Don’t forget to read the little media headlines.  And I think he failed to give the reader a sense of real danger; there’s conflict but except for the return to Earth (that was tense) it didn’t catch my emotions. But what was very satisfying is a big discovery regarding the Monument Makers, the mystery that begins the very first in the series. Also, it’s hopeful – we’re left with the satisfaction that people can empathize with strangers, and given all the information, we’ll do our best to do the right thing. If McDevitt wanted to end this series, this wouldn’t be a bad place to do it.



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